27 October 2019

The Site of Sylvia Plath's "Ariel"

This is a blog post I started several years ago (in 2013!!!) but never posted for a variety of reasons. Today seems like a good day to publish it…

In the morning before a Sylvia Plath archives talk Gail Crowther and I gave at Plymouth University in England---please see the March 2013 Blog archive for a bit about that presentation.---Gail and I did a bit of Plathing in the villages of Belstone and Corscombe in Devon. Belstone is were Susan O'Neil-Roe lived at "Pear Trees" cottage. (For more on Belstone and "Pear Trees" please click here.) It took two trips to the village to find the house, but thanks to the marvel that is Google we were able to locate the house.

From there, we went onto to nearby Corscombe, where was Plath took horse riding lessons on an older, docile horse called Ariel. Being there, the poems "Ariel" and "Sheep in Fog" take on a whole new meaning, as does her December 1962 introductions that she wrote about the poems. (The broadcast was never-realized her then new work.) These introductions are reprinted in Ariel: The Restored Edition (both) and in The Collected Poems (just "Sheep in Fog"). Tellingly, the order in which Plath introduced the poems had "Sheep in Fog" first, followed by "Ariel". For "Sheep in Fog" Plath wrote: "In this poem, the speaker's horse is proceeding at a slow, cold walk down a hill of macadam to the stable at the bottom. It is December. It is foggy. In the fog there are sheep." For "Ariel", she said, "Another horseback riding poem, this one called 'Ariel', after a horse I'm especially fond of."



Plath's visited Miss Redwood, her riding "mistress", regularly in the autumn of 1962. Miss Redwood lived at a farm called Lower Corscombe (top left). From Lower Corscombe one can go up that hill of macadam (top right -- the camera's point of view looks downhill towards Lower Corscombe) where the road makes a sharp right turn and then goes higher still before plateauing and continuing further on with one or so turns, directly to North Tawton. From the plateau here you can see several Dartmoor tors including Cawsand Beacon and Yes Tor (lower left), as well as the valley below. The Dartmoor rail line runs quite close to these farms though when we were there, there were no trains running (lower right).


In the map above the red line is the train line, the white arrow points approximately to Lower Corscombe farm; and the yellow arrow is the hill of macadam. That is the train line that rain through North Tawton.

Among other things on her 30th birthday, 27 October 1962, Sylvia Plath had her charwoman Nancy Axworthy over from 10:15 to 12:15. From 11 to 12 that morning, Plath was at Miss Redwood's for her horse riding lesson. That morning, also, Plath wrote "Poppies in October" and "Ariel". Later on she picked apples, baked bread. She also ironed and washed a sweater.

As you should know by now, I find being in or at a place Plath wrote about enhances the experience of reading the poem. This is a different form of interpretation than a biographical reading which is a sound approach, but which has come under intense scrutiny and criticism over the years. Plath was influenced by a place or a thing almost as much as she was by the events of her life and both undergo a beautiful transformations from the lived-experience to the art of the creative work. This is, in part, the living archive, a concept Gail and I developed in our papers and subsequent book, These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath.


All links accessed 21 March 2013, 19 June 2019, and 26 October 2019.

19 October 2019

Recap: Letters of Sylvia Plath Book Talk and More


Thanks go to Gregory Stall at the Grand Central branch of the New York Public Library for asking me to come and give a talk about my work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath. I did so Thursday and had a good time talking to the crowd. And it was terrific to see some familiar faces such as Eva S. and Richard L. I appreciate the rapport of the Q & A afterwards, and am grateful to Liz for lugging copies of the Letters from Staten Island.

After the talk I retired to my room at the nearby Roosevelt Hotel. I chose it for its Plathian association. On 2 June 1953, her second day as Guest Editor at Mademoiselle magazine, Plath wrote in a letter home: "Yesterday a.m. we saw our first (my first) fashion show at the Roosevelt Hotel" (p631). The hotel is located at 45 E. 45th Street.



Her calendar for the day calls it a "College Clinic" that started at 10:15. In a document from Plath's Mademoiselle papers held by the Lilly Library, we can learn a little more:


The Grand Ballroom is located on the Mezzanine Level, is 5,696 square feet and features twenty-seven feet high ceilings. I could not access it as there was a private event going on and I was asked politely to leave. Felt it was better to admit defeat than be escort outed.

After the Fashion Show, Plath had lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and then went to Richard Hudnut for hair and make-up consultations. Since it was effectively next door, I visited Grand Central and the awfully smelling Oyster Bar.


Before the long journey home yesterday morning I spent some time in the Berg Collection at the main branch of the NYPL. I had visited this archive once years ago and decided it was worth a trip to look again at the following Plath materials:

Cartoon of a koala bear (Juvenilia)
Alphabet and birthday quatrain (Juvenilia)
"Trixie and the balloon" (Story, Juvenilia)
Camping list (Juvenilia)
Pencil drawing of campsite (Juvenilia)
"Winter and magic" (Story, Juvenilia)
9 pencil tracings and drawings (Juvenilia); and
Notebook of copied poetry (With "Activities and Awards" sheet)

The Berg also has some drafts of "Brasilia" and "Insomniac" with other Plath works on the versos but I already have copies of those. In addition, they have a letter from Plath to her grandmother but that's in the Letters (Volume 1).

I wrote about the Berg Collection in this previous blog post. Some of the Berg's holdings were highlighted in this Gothamist piece. Which leads to another document I worked with: a letter from Plath to Alfred Kazin from 26 April 1961. In 2011 when I first visited the Berg I was told this letter was "lost". In 2013 I followed up and it was still "lost". In 2015, when that video was aired, they had the letter. Perhaps I should have followed up again? It is disappointing it is not in Volume II of the Letters, but at least we know it has been found.

One of the main things I wanted to see again was Plath's copy of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. I did work with it ages ago but once was not enough and I have long dreamed of seeing it again. The book was given to her by Richard Norton. I love the fact that the first Quartet is "Burnt Norton", and using modern parlance for insulting someone... she burned Norton, alright, in The Bell Jar.

I also spent heaps of time with Plath's sporadically heavily annotated copy of Louis Untermeyer's Modern American and British Poetry (1955 edition). I have not yet really worked with the photographs I took but there are probably annotations to north of 180 pages.

I find it so useful and important to visit and revisit (and revisit again) archives. Don't you?

Before leaving I looked in at the JD Salinger exhibit which opened that morning. Lots of great stuff in there but my time was running out before I had to go. I felt goddamn phony, if you want to know the truth.

All links accessed 16 and 19 October 2019.

09 October 2019

Published today: Reclaiming Assia Wevill by Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick


The LSU Press publishes today Reclaiming Assia Wevill: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Literary Imagination by Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick.

From the description:
Reclaiming Assia Wevill: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Literary Imagination reconsiders cultural representations of Assia Wevill (1927–1969), according her a more significant position than a femme fatale or scapegoat for marital discord and suicide in the lives and works of two major twentieth-century poets.

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick’s innovative study combines feminist recovery work with discussions of the power and gendered dynamics that shape literary history. She focuses on how Wevill figures into poems by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, showing that they often portrayed her in harsh, conflicted, even demeaning terms. Their representations of Wevill established condemnatory narratives that were perpetuated by subsequent critics and biographers and in works of popular culture. In Plath’s literary treatments, Goodspeed-Chadwick locates depictions of both desirable and undesirable femininity, conveyed in images of female bodies as beautiful but barren or as vehicles for dangerous, destructive acts. By contrast, Hughes’s portrayals illustrate the role Wevill occupied in his life as muse and abject object. His late work Capriccio constitutes a sustained meditation on trauma, in which Hughes confronts Wevill’s suicide and her killing of their daughter, Shura.

Goodspeed-Chadwick also analyzes Wevill’s self-representations by examining artifacts that she authored or on which she collaborated. Finally, she discusses portrayals of Wevill in recent works of literature, film, and television. In the end, Goodspeed-Chadwick shows that Wevill remains an object of both fascination and anger, as she was for Plath, and a figure of attraction and repulsion, as she was for Hughes.

Reclaiming Assia Wevill reconsiders its subject’s tragic life and lasting impact in regard to perceived gender roles and notions of femininity, power dynamics in heterosexual relationships, and the ways in which psychological traumas impact life, art, and literary imagination.
I have read the book. I love the book. I encourage you to buy the book. In addition to the publisher, Reclaiming Assia Wevill is available on Amazon.

All links accessed 5 October 2019.

03 October 2019

Letters of Sylvia Plath Event at NYPL

On Thursday, 17 October 2019, I will be giving a talk on my editorial work on The Letters of Sylvia Plath at the Grand Central Branch of the New York Public Library.

The library's address is: 135 East 46th Street New York, NY, 10017.

The talk will start at 6 PM. It is free, however, you must RSVP.


If you have time, please read an interview between me and Gregory Stall of the NYPL Grand Central location.

Author photograph by Kathrine Smart, taken inside 3 Chalcot Square, London. Sorry I cropped you out of the photograph, Nick.

All links accessed 7 and 14 August, and 10 September 2019.

01 October 2019

Bees: thinking of Sylvia Plath

Over the summer I was observing some bumblebees and decided to try a slow motion camera video on my mobile. These are my rather pathetic attempts, but I felt it was appropriate to share them at this time of year because who doesn't think of Sylvia Plath and bees in October?






The funny thing about the second one, "A bee", is that the bugger missed the flower!

All links accessed 4 August 2019.
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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.

Interviews